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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Jim Sadler poses at Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory & Florist - North Chapel, where he works, on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 in Hixson, Tenn.

Jim Sadler was a teenager at Central High School when he decided to join the U.S. Navy.

The St. Elmo native, now 88, spent three years in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps because of a family friend he admired that served in the Navy.

"Well, I was already doing ROTC and considering the Navy when they began drafting," Sadler said of the 1950 draft. "So I decided I'd go ahead and enlist on my own time so that I could stay and finish high school without getting drafted."

Sadler served active duty in the Navy from 1951-1954, spending time on two different ships in Panama and Norfolk, Virginia.

"I tell you, when I was in Norfolk, I used to hitchhike from [Chattanooga] up there, and well, I sure wouldn't do that again," Sadler said. "When I got there, they were sure tough on you and you just grew accustomed to it and to being away from your mama and daddy and, well, it'll make a man out of you."

Sadler said he is most proud in his life of being in the Navy but remembers moments when he didn't know if he would ever make it out.

"I remember being out at sea in a hurricane, and you would just see these waves swell up. And I really had no doubts one of them was going to take out our ship," Sadler said. "That water looking like that and those waves going on for hours, I didn't think we'd make it home. I loved being in the Navy, but I always said after that that God had no part in Norfolk and I'd never go back."

While in the service, Sadler made several friends who he stayed in touch with over the years.

(Read about other local veterans in our "21-Veteran Salute" series here)

BIO

Name: Jim Sadler

Age: 88

Branch: U.S. Navy

Years of serivce: 1951-1954

After his time in the Navy, Sadler met his wife of 65 years, Peggy, at church. The two had four children, but have since lost a son. They have three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all of whom live locally.

Sadler also worked several odd jobs at a time upon his return from the Navy until a friend coaxed him into working at a funeral home.

"I told him, 'You have got to be kidding me. I don't even like to visit a funeral home,'" Sadler recalled. "I told him I'd come in for a day but I may leave after about three minutes and, well, I loved it."

Sadler has made about a 40-year career of working at funeral homes. He still works full time, assisting with as many as four funerals a day.

"It means so much to see how I can help people going through a hard time losing a loved one," he said. "It's hard and we all go through it, but people tell me I make it easier, and I plan on doing that until I can't or until it's me coming in here."

While he cherishes helping out anyone who has lost a loved one, working funerals of service members means the most to Sadler.

"Even if I never met them, it means so much to comfort and serve the loved ones of someone else who served," Sadler said. "It's so important to honor those who served, and the families love it when I wear my Navy tie to a sailor's funeral. It makes them happy, and I know that they need that in a time of loss."

When he's not working, Sadler stays busy with the Lions Club, the American Legion and other civic organizations.

To celebrate Veterans Day, Sadler used to go with the local Vietnam veterans group to Washington, D.C., but says he most likely will go to the Chattanooga National Cemetery this year.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or staylor@timesfreepress.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.

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